In the Do-It-Yourself era – is self service undermining customer service?

Today’s world is filled with paradoxes. While some are working around the clock, others desperately search for jobs. We claim that time is precious, but still waste it on small, insignificant tasks. We live in a time of efficiency hypes, yet we are back where we long ago started – in a place where everyone is doing everything themselves.

Please help yourself

Self-service refers to the concept of producing a service yourself rather than to use a service provider. Over the last decades self-servicing has increased in popularity; we can now operate e.g. phones and elevators ourselves rather than through designated operators. Furthermore, we can also ourselves collect items in a store rather than wait for the store clerk to bring them. In the most recent years, new technology has allowed for the self-service activities to spread further. We assemble our own furniture, manage our finances and buy tickets online.

Self-service benefits

Thus, self-servicing can indeed provide many benefits for both customer and company. It can be cheaper for the companies and more efficient for the customer. This is an important aspect as many companies have heavy competition from online stores such as Amazon or Zalando. With several self-service machines, companies and airports hopes to reduce both their staff and the waiting times for the client. In addition, automated customer service is available 24/7 instead of during working hours only, which can make e.g. travelers and bank customers happy.

The advantages can also be the drawbacks.

A potential consequence of increased self-service options might be impaired customer service and increased unemployment rates. Moreover, non-uniform self-service systems force the consumer to constantly learn new machines or systems. This not only takes time, it also draws mental energy. Fewer staff members can make it difficult for the customer to get help, which might actually increase the waiting times and make the whole process less efficient. Lack of human interaction might make the whole experience less pleasant for some. In some situations, the self-service options might even inspire and help thieves

Unpaid, extra shadow work?

Some people see self-service as “unpaid, extra shadow work”. Constantly doing everything yourself means that you effectively do somebody else’s job – unpaid. At the same time as your “free time” diminishes, your mind gets cluttered and overloaded, which may be one reason behind people’s increased tiredness today. And if the saying “time is money” is true, then time spent doing “unpaid, extra shadow work” is actually lost money.

Self-service affects our behavior

The possibility to help oneself also gives the customer a feeling of control and removes social interactions, which might feel uncomfortable for some. Research has shown that the self-service technologies affect customer’s decisions. When given the option to avoid human interaction and potential judgments, people tend to buy increase quantities, consume more calories and buy more “difficult-to-pronounce items”.

Take it or leave it

But not every company embraces self-service technologies. For example, two American warehouse clubs went different ways. Walmart decided to expand the self-service checkout lanes whereas Costco, after testing self-service, decided to go back to more traditional customer service since the “employees do the work more efficiently”. In addition, rejecting self-service may also be a way to stand out and profile your brand.

If you want a thing done…

In today’s individualized society people seem to get a kick out of multitasking, optimizing their efficiency, being the best and doing everything themselves. This, together with the saying “if you want a thing done right, do it yourself” makes it understandable that self-service technologies flourish. However, while people experience a feeling of increased efficiency, the outcome can paradoxically enough be exactly the opposite.


Thus, there seem to be limits as to how far self-service can be stretched. And it should in no situation replace customer service, which unfortunately often is the case. The best results are reached when self-service stays an option and not a must. This also means to not force self service upon people by charging higher prices for transactions at the office rather than online. Because self-service should not substitute good service.

Header image credits royalty free

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About Monika Abramczuk

Monika studied biotechnology and molecular biology. When not engaged in research, she likes to read spy thrillers, drink tea, bake and travel.

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